Montreal in the 1950s and 60s

The NFB is about to release La mémoire des anges, a new film by Luc Bourdon about life in 1950s and 60s Montreal, created by stitching together footage from the NFB’s vast archives. If this trailer is any indication, it will be an absolutely fascinating look at a city that, for all intents and purposes, no longer exists. The Montreal you see here is brash and cocky, a self-assured metropolis still unaware that it would be forced to suffer a prolonged existential crisis in the 1970s, 80s and 90s.

Thanks to Kate from Montreal City for the heads up!

32 comments

  1. I’m old enough to remember the final years and it WAS great. Montreal was great.

    That said, English Montreal had a profile, indeed, a swagger that rubbed a lot of francophones the wrong way.

    Jasmin, I wonder if you would have wanted to have lived in that Montreal. There’d be a level of bilingualism — heck, English unilingualism — you might not appreciate.

    It would be interesting to contrast this free-wheeling look back at Montreal through the eyes of Luc Bourdon with Bill Weintraub’s doc, The Rise and Fall of English Montreal, a more dour NFB doc with a different take on Montreal’s golden era.

  2. Montreal was boiling and radical in the 1970s. What existential crisis?

  3. I did not get the chance to experience Montreal during this time though it is the era my mother grew up in and i am certainly aware of. It never ceases to amaze me that those are clips of Montreal, I mean, my God, the foot traffic alone could be mistaken for midtown Manhattan today! That said, English Montreal had a profile indeed that not only stretched from coast to coast, but at that time, around the world and English Montrealers were very aware of that.

  4. The action hadn’t all shifted east yet. Believe it or not, Decarie Blvd was a really, really hip place to be.

    Top comedians and singers would dine at Miss Montreal, a place near de la Savane. Ruby Foos, Bill Wong’s, The Stagecoach, these were happening places. They were hard to get into. When we dined at Bill Wong’s buffet, I had to wear a tie.

    It was cool to be downtown, too. At night, Saint Catherine Street had life, much more than now, where the street seems given over to surly youths after the shops close. The main strip was alive with neon (why haven’t more cities tried to retain classic neon!)

  5. Shawn wrote: “That said, English Montreal had a profile, indeed, a swagger that rubbed a lot of francophones the wrong way.

    Jasmin, I wonder if you would have wanted to have lived in that Montreal. There’d be a level of bilingualism — heck, English unilingualism — you might not appreciate.”

    Indeed. To quote Joel Garreau from his Québec chapter in The Nine Nations of North America:

    “Every Quebecois has his share of stories. The most pointed, perhaps, are the ones about Anglo bosses demanding that their underlings “speak white.” Separatist Parti Quebecois founder, Rene Levesque, once referred to his English opponents as his “white Rhodesians.” There are those who have been spat on or beaten up for speaking French in their own land. There are the jobs denied and school doors closed even to English-speakers with a French accent. There’s the chic Quebecoise refused service in a restaurant or boutique in the heart of her home town of Montreal for not speaking English.”

    So much has changed in a generation. I’ve only been here a few years, but it’s obvious.

    I’m glad for the shift to French first, even as I struggle to learn the language, and the different and perhaps greater cosmopolitanism that has developed since (especially among those under 40), though it seems it will take another generation or so for the success of La Survivance to really sink in psychologically for the separatists, so they finally feel secure in a multilingual city and stop imagining the imminent disappearance of French every time they run into some ignoramus shop clerk in Westmount who forgets to speak French first.

  6. Wow, check out those cars. Looks like a great film. Christopher, why don’t you organize a screening for SpacingMontreal?

  7. I don’t think that jab at Westmount was really necessary. Westmount is the most stereotyped cultural object in Quebec yet the population is far from being the bastion of Anglophones. Like the rest of the English community, it is multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, and straddles all socio-economic levels of society.

    That said, as long as a clerk can switch to French, who cares what language you start off with. I mean, I often walk into a store and say Hi, Bonjour, in the same breath.

  8. Awesome Place to be in the Forties and Fifties. The Decarie Expressway Extinguished several of Montreal Landmarks beyond Queen Mary and Snowdon Junction.

    Dunns a Great Place to Eat after a Movie on Ste. Catherine St. ( Still Two Way. )

    Horse Meat was still available in Butcher Shops on Wellington and elsewhere.

    Filling and Cheap Meals at Tavernes at Noon.

    Great Radio Stations, too!, CKVL, CJMS, CFCF, CJAD, CKGM and CFOX still in the Future.

    CBFT 2 then CBMT 6 for TV.

    Polio kept us Indoors in the Summer when it was so hot.

    Rappers have Supplemented Wrappers at what was once Steinbergs.

    Great to see on Film what was once taken for Granted.

    Glad I was there for parts of it.

    Many Changes.

  9. Does anyone know when it will come to Montréal? The official website mentions the Toronto Film Festival in September but nothing else.

  10. I fell in love with Montreal in 1967 when my parents brought me to see Expo 67. Two years later I enrolled at McGill, staying 6 years to get my bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

    When I started at McGill, I was shocked to see that my 4 years of high school French in Boston had given me a better knowledge of the language than most English Quebecers I met at McGill and in the west end. I understood why Rene Lesvesque and the PQ felt the way they did, although I disagreed with their solution: independence. The unilingualists have fled to Toronto or Calgary. Hopefully the current language detente will last and spread. While some of the PQ tactics were harsh and unfair to anglos, the status quo if the sixties had to end.

  11. Just watched an advance copy of this film on a friend’s DVD. It’s great.

    Bourdon is adept at finding great shots and creating very dramatic sequences. It tells little stories, one melding into the next; nothing at all like Lipsett’s work, I realize, which tended towards the abstract.

  12. Grew up in Little Burgundy from 1961 Delisle street, also lived west of Atwater on St Antoine and on Tupper for awhile and eventually to Lasalle. By the early 80’s out of the province to Ontario where I absolutely hate it, always have. When going back to visit there’s nothing left of the old district, all gone. There is a quiet intelligence there, Hip, cool, with it, however you want to describe it that doesn’t exist out here. Montreal is absolutely unique.

  13. Jasmin, if you were to live in that montreal, you would be better off to learn and adapt yourself to its prevalent english mindset all over the isle because otherwise you would never be entitled to get a career employement in this city, given the fact that you are not an englsih speaker… but nevertherless, aside from this, I wish this montreal had been the montreal we know today instead of toronto being the biggest city.

    such a shame

  14. I’m glad for the shift to French first, even as I struggle to learn the language, and the different and perhaps greater cosmopolitanism that has developed since (especially among those under 40), though it seems it will take another generation or so for the success of La Survivance to really sink in psychologically for the separatists, so they finally feel secure in a multilingual city and stop imagining the imminent disappearance of French every time they run into some ignoramus shop clerk in Westmount who forgets to speak French first
    kai, yah, you’re glad for the downfall of a great city that was once prosperous on all basis since,perhaps, you might be one of those separatists that contributed to its destructions.

    (line deleted for profanity)

  15. Do you remember a restaurant in Montreal on Victoria Ave. called Fireside?

  16. Anyone remember the restaurant Paesano’s with all the Italian artwork? We used to go there for a pizza after a movie on a Saturday night… If I remember correctly it was on Cote des Neighes Rd.,

  17. Recently went to Rawdon Quebec for a visit and vacation at Gratten Lake. While the town of Rawdon is primarily French speaking, everyone treated us well. I found that just making a small effort to speak the language, people would gladly switch to English when able and showed no signs of poor attitude or separatism. We’ll be going back next year.

  18. Anybody have the recipe for Frand D’Rice spaghetti Sauce?? This was an Italian Restaurant on St. Catharine and Peel??
    Thanks

  19. I loved Montreal when growing up there and it still has an attraction to this day, I read some of the comments and it is nice to see people remembering some of the very good things about Montreal.

  20. Gosh! I remember ALL of the places mentioned in the above comments – and since I moved from Canada to the Oregon in 1991, I get a great charge anytime I hear someone speaking French in my presence. What was a political thorn in everyone’s sides then has become a bit of nostalgia, making me miss those good old days. I remember the respect we had for one another’s culture, in the 60’s, but at some point in the following decade, the respect seemed to dwindle away, and the non-tolerant/unbending/afraid-of-change Anglophones hightailed it to Toronto. In the 20 years since I have been living in the US, I have seen a shift in the mindset of the Quebec people – very much for the better. An acceptance, a pride in the differences AS WELL as the similarities, in the cultures, and the history of the past 40 years. I believe that we have come a long way.

  21. I remember the fifties in Montreal very well, I was born and raised in”‘ little burgundy'”a neighborhood populated by a mixture of Irish, French( “pepsi”,) and Negros as they were called at the time
    I lived on a street called Plymouth Grove, don’t be fooled by the fancy name ,lol,all the houses on that street were eventually razed to make way for the Autoroute Ville Marie. Being a french Canadian with an Irish name, and surrounded with Irish neighbors I quickly became bilingual as a matter of survival,lol.Yes they called us frogs, pepsi, and we called the anglos tete carrée ,nothing personal that” the way it was.Those my age will remember the ice delivery wagons, the horse drawn bread wagons.I no longer live in QC, but when I go to visit I always go back the “hood”.

  22. I remember the fifties in Montreal, my neighborhood Little Burgundy was populated by a mixture of Irish, French ,and African Canadians.Everybody got along, never an argument. Ii was an oasis of bonne entente, it was practically crime free except for sipping a beer on Dorchester Blvd. on march 17th.People came from far and wide to study our system.lol lol lol lol lol :-)

  23. Anybody remember the Negro community center on coursol street ?

  24. Rockhead’s Paradise still around on rue de la montagne?

  25. I was born in what we called the West End or what my aunts uncles and cousins called the west end – it was from Windsor to Atwater mostly below Dorchester…. I went to St Anthony’s school my aunts did too. My Aunt and her daughters Gratia, Shirley, Audrey, Myrna Gordon lived onb Plymouth Grove… as did the Laytons then they moved over to a short street before Atwater and ran from St Antoine to the now Villa Marie Expressway.

  26. In response to Vardit! Yes Paesano was on Cote-des-Neiges between the restaurant Chez Ercole and the Steinberg. I grew up in this area.

  27. I would love to see the video. Is it available online or at local public libraries? I grew up in Verdun in the 40’s and 50’s. At that time Verdun’s mayor and council were I believe all English. I don’t think I even met anyone who spoke French until I started working in 1957 and that for a British insurance company and of course English was both the spoken and written language, even by the French employees. My folks had a cottage at Gratten Lake, near Rawdon, from the early 40’s and things weren’t too different there. Most businesses in Rawdon were either run by English or otherwise at least that was the day to day language. And as far as Montreal was concerned, with the exception perhaps of Montreal East, the status quo seemed OK. In 1958, I believe, the Queen and Prince Philip visited Montreal. I was working on John Street just off Notre Dame and my employer let everyone off to watch them as they drove along St. James. Both sides of the street were packed with so many viewers, both English and French, cheering them as they passed, that the cavalcade was forced to stop right in front of me. They were in an open convertible and I was pressed right against the car’s side and Prince Philip. At that time there was no thought of any hatred toward them and thus little security. And then came Marcel Chaput and his Quebec for the French philosophy. Everything changed and within about 5 years, mailboxes were being blown up due the word Royal on their side.

  28. The various memories I have read here are familiar & nostalgic for me. I am trying to find information on “The Friendly Home” an orphanage located across the street from the old Montreal Children’s Hospital on 2284 and 2290 Dorchester ( torn down many years ago) and later moved to N.D.G. I believe there was some relationship between it and the Baptist Church. It was in operation in the 50’s and 60’s. I don’t know when it started or when it ended. It was small, approx. 30 boys and girls.
    It is part of my history from 1957 – 1960. I can find nothing online. It is like it never existed. If anyone has any information or ever resided there I would love to hear their memories.

  29. When I was a kid we lived in Grand Mere. We didn’t have a car so when we went to visit family in Lake Placid NY we would take the bus to Montreal then get the Greyhound south. We would have lunch at Murray’s Restaurant on Dorchester near the Montreal bus station. There have been more than a few changes since then. As a 10 year old, I thought it was just the fanciest restaurant

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *